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Tuesday, February 05, 2008 | Baseball
Wichita State, Creighton Headline 2008 Baseball Preseason Poll
League coaches were nearly unanimous in voting Wichita State as the preseason favorite in the 2008 Missouri Valley Conference race. The Shockers received eight of nine first-place votes and tallied 73 points to lead the field.
2008 Preseason Poll
1. Wichita State (8) 73
2. Creighton (1) 68
3. Southern Illinois 64
4. Missouri State 44
5. Northern Iowa 38
6. Evansville 37
T-7. Bradley 31
T-7. Indiana State 31
9. Illinois State 19
First-place votes in parentheses
2008 Preseason All-MVC Team
C: Mark Kelly, SIU, Jr, (Hanover Park, Ill.)
1B: Darin Ruf, CU, Jr. (Omaha, Neb.)
2B: Ryan Strausborger, INS, So. (Osceola, Ind.)
SS: Brandon Douglas, UNI, Jr. (St. Charles, Iowa)
3B: Conor Gillaspie, WSU, Jr. (Omaha, Neb.)
OF: Deric Manrique, UNI, Jr. (Sioux City, Iowa)
OF: Jim Viscomi, UE, Sr. (Aurora, Ill.)
OF: Aaron Roberts, SIU, So. (Chatham, Ill.)
DH: Kevin Dubler, ILS, Jr. (Downers Grove, Ill.)
UT: Dan Brewer, BU, Jr. (Brookfield, Ill.)
SP: Aaron Shafer, WSU, Jr. (Moscow Mills, Mo.)
SP: Ben Mancuso, CU, Sr. (Omaha, Neb.)
RP: Pat Venditte, CU, Sr. (Omaha, Neb.)
RP:Anthony Capra, WSU, Jr. (Arvada, Colo.)
Gene Stephenson will begin his 31st season as the Shocker head coach with six returning starters and 19 returning lettermen from a team that went 53-22 in 2007. Wichita State advanced to its 25th NCAA Tournament, won its 18th Valley regular-season title, advanced to its first Super Regional and won more than 40 games for the 30th-consecutive year.
The 2008 pitching staff returns nine pitchers from the last year’s staff, including preseason all-Valley selections Aaron Shafer and Anthony Capra. The 2007 staff posted the second-best ERA in the nation (2.68) and led the nation in strikeouts with 670.
The Shocker offense returns six offensive starters including Rawlings Gold Glove winning catcher Tyler Weber, and two-time all-Valley third baseman Conor Gillaspie, who earned a spot on the preseason all-Valley list.
Trailing Wichita State in the poll is a Creighton team that returns four regulars from the lineup and four key pitchers from last season’s 45-16 squad that won the school’s first Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title and advanced to its eighth NCAA Regional. The Bluejays tallied 68 points and earned one first-place vote.
A strong nucleus returns this spring for the Bluejays, including the reigning MVC Pitcher of the Year Ben Mancuso, 2007 MVC Player of the Year Darin Ruf and last season’s MVC Tournament MVP Pat Venditte - all preseason all-Valley selections.
Mancuso posted a 10-3 record with a 2.34 ERA to earn 2007 Louisville Slugger Third-Team All-American honors. Ruf, who led the team and was in the top-five in the MVC in 10 different offensive categories, will anchor the middle of the Bluejay lineup. The versatile Venditte, the country’s only ambidextrous pitcher, is the lone reliever with significant experience returning in the bullpen.
Back to lead the Jays is fifth-year head coach Ed Servais, who has captured MVC Coach of the Year honors in three of his four seasons at the helm, including last season, and has posted an impressive 159-78 (.671) record.
Third in the poll with 64 points is Southern Illinois. The Salukis, who were ranked 33rd in Collegiate Baseball Newspaper’s Fabulous 40 preseason poll, enter the year with 10 returning starters, including preseason all-MVC picks Mark Kelly and Aaron Roberts.
Kelly, a junior from Hanover Park, Ill., returns as the Salukis’ backstop. Kelly was rated among the nation’s Top-15 catchers, according to rivals.com. He led the Salukis and ranked second in the MVC with a .379 batting average en route to first-team all-conference and American Baseball Coaches Association all-region honors in 2007.
Roberts, SIU’s other preseason honoree, hit .349 and led the team with 11 stolen bases a year ago.
Missouri State, picked fourth in the poll with 44 points, is poised to make a return to the MVC’s elite after a disappointing 2007 season. Missouri State is in its 26th year under Keith Guttin.
The Bears were 23-34 a year ago and finished eighth in the league standings despite a roster with two pitchers taken in the first three rounds of the MLB draft.
Leading the Bears on the mound in 2008 will be sophomore starters Tim Clubb (6-3, 4.07 ERA in 2007) and Buddy Baumann (1-3, 4.85 ERA), while junior closer Matt Frevert will bring dominant stuff to the closer role after finishing last year with a 0.47 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 19 innings.
The offense returns 36 of its 44 home runs from a year ago, a number that ranked second in the league. Nolan Keane (9 HR), is the top power threat, while Brayden Drake (6), Ryan Mantle (5), Ben Carlson (5), Josh Mazzola (4) and Kyle Paul (4) all bombed at least four long balls a year ago. Senior outfielder Ben Woodbury hit .309 in 2007 and rounds out MSU’s trio of returning .300 hitters with Keane and Paul.
UNI, picked fifth with 38 points, will rely on experience to get back to the Missouri Valley Conference tournament for the first time since 2003. The Panthers return six from their 2007 starting lineup, along with three starting pitchers from a year ago.
The Panthers’ lineup brings back three of last season’s top four hitters, including Deric Manrique (.351), Brandon Douglas (.339) and Dane Embury (.308). Manrique and Douglas were each first-team all-MVC selections a year ago, and both represent UNI on the preseason all-Valley team. The Panthers also bring back one of the league’s top home run hitters in Brett Featherston, who finished third in the Valley with nine home runs a year ago.
Head Coach Rick Heller is in his ninth year at the helm for the Panthers.
Evansville, picked sixth with 37 points, has posted three straight 35-win seasons for the first time in the program’s Division I history, and now, the 2008 team will take to the diamond this spring trying to extend that streak. First team all-MVC outfielder Jim Viscomi returns to anchor UE’s offensive attack after leading the Valley in runs scored (59) and ranking third in both batting average (.374) and stolen bases (22) last year.
Some of Evansville’s biggest questions come from an extremely young pitching staff, although former Major League Baseball draftees Wade Kapteyn and Ryan Kussmaul are expected to provide a lot of the answers. In the bullpen, junior right-hander J.R. Carbonell returns this season to help spearhead a three-closer attack along with former MLB draftee Corey Davisson and true freshman flame-thrower Zach Taylor.
Head coach Dave Seifert returns for his second year as Evansville head coach.
Tied for seventh in the poll with 31 points, Bradley returns 15 lettermen from the 2007 squad that rolled to a 32-21 overall record, finished third in the Missouri Valley Conference race at 13-11 and tied for third in the postseason MVC Tournament. Included in that group is preseason all-MVC honoree Dan Brewer. The junior third baseman earned second-team All-MVC honors last year after leading the Braves with 10 home runs and 20 stolen bases.
The pitching staff will once again carry the load for the Braves in 2008. Junior righthander Collin Brennan, senior righty Chris Wright and sophomore right-hander Rob Scahill all have shown tremendous ability as frontline starters, while sophomore righty Brad Altbach was named the Valley Freshman of the Year and a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American as the team’s closer in 2007.
Indiana State, which tied with Bradley for seventh in the poll with 31 points, returns head coach Lindsay Meggs for his second season at the helm of the Sycamores. The Sycamores return just five starters and five pitchers from a team that finished 26-26 overall last year and 7-17 in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Indiana State’s lone preseason all-Valley honoree is second baseman Ryan Strausborger. Strausborger is one of just two sophomores to earn preseason honors this year and will continue to improve after posting a .286 average last season.
Head coach Jim Brownlee, who helms ninth-place Illinois state (19 points), is beginning his sixth season at ISU and his 29th overall as a collegiate coach. Brownlee will count heavily on preseason all-MVC honoree Kevin Dubler, whose bat will be the centerpiece of the Redbird lineup.
Freshmen Ronnie Calvird, Corey Maines and Kevin Tokarski will all make immediate impacts to the lineup, as the trio garnered all-state honors while in high school. The newcomers will look to make their mark on the program, and their success is key to the 2008 ISU squad.